What a long, strange year it’s been.
This was the most tumultuous year of my life, so far. It’s been a year defined by two things: people, and places. So I thought I’d write two posts looking back at my year: 2016 in Places, and 2016 in People.
Places is easy—it comes first. People will be harder, and I’ll have to think long and hard about what I want to share, and with whom. It may show up here, it may just be a private thing I share with those close to me. I’m not sure.
The downside with a growing audience is you do need to consider what you say a little more carefully.
As I go into 2017, I’m faced with a big choice: do I choose to keep chasing places, for another little while, or is it time to settle down and devote myself to enhancing my relationships with people?
The two goals, unfortunately, are often mutually exclusive.
2016 in Places
On January 1, I woke up massively hungover in Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia. My girlfriend was with me. We got breakfast at a hip spot overlooking the soccer fields. I fell down the stairs on the way out—it was that sort of hangover. We spent the morning on the beach—it was trashed from the party the night before. We stopped at a McDonald’s in Denpasar for lunch that was definitely not for tourists. The hostility in the air was palpable, and looking back, it’s lucky we weren’t mugged. The hangover would not abate, and the hour-long scooter drive back to our apartment in Ubud was less than enjoyable.
My hangover got worse and worse throughout the day; then I fell quite ill. I was feverish and chilled for almost a week. I lost my job.
My girlfriend wanted to go home.
I could not let go of travel. I took us to Taipei, paying for most everything. I thought I was doing us a favor here. In hindsight, I was not.
We spent a month here, in a tiny apartment, no bigger than 15 square meters. I had wanted to visit during Chinese New Year—a popular time for tourists. Our last-minute AirBNB rental was sandwiched down the sketchiest alley in a local, immigrant neighborhood. We were the only white people who set foot in that area all month. Our local friends didn’t even recognize our metro stop.
My friend Kelsey is in Taipei right now—sending me snapchats of busy streets and photos of exotic night market foods. I tell her I am jealous, that I love Taipei. And I do. But February, while the girlfriend and I were there, was cold and damp and dreary.
There were many great moments here. Especially in memory. But hanging over it all: a palpable sense of dread. The feeling of an ending.
Visiting Nepal changed my life. It was my first-ever solo travel. It represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. It really opened my eyes to the privilege of a first-world life. I had the most beautiful, enlightening experience of my entire life there. And I suffered through debilitating emotional pain, all alone in a foreign country.
You don’t come back the same from such an experience.
(If you want to read more about Nepal, I’ve got plenty for you to read).
I struggled home from Nepal. Post-travel depression set in, and it hit me hard. I spent a few months utterly lost and confused, stripped of meaning and support. Not a pleasant period.
May: Boulder Canyon
My old climbing partner takes off to backpack Asia. I had been unable to muster the energy to hold out and meet him on the road. I find a new partner, and I take up rock climbing again with a ferocity. Climbing is the only thing that keeps me sane through these difficult months of readjustment. She’s new to the sport, so we never climb anything very big or very hard, but we’re trying. That’s all that matters.
I fell in love with Bozeman, Montana the second I drove into town. It has the vibe of a Boulder, or a Fort Collins, the way I imagine they were thirty years ago. The perfect outdoors town, with exactly the sort of laid-back people I like.
We were here for a family wedding. I was alone, and I could not stop thinking about the past.
A city I have always romanticized in my mind. Unfortunately, the reality disappointed me a bit.
I spent the Fourth of July visiting a friend who lives in Seattle. He is an engineer who works for Boeing. His long-term girlfriend: also an engineer. Their next five years or so are laid out on a track in front of them. It will be career. To do otherwise would make so little sense as to be crazy.
The pair have totally fallen in to each other. Little exists for them outside of their relationship. They reminded me quite strongly of what my life had been in Vail.
“I want to travel, like you did,” the girlfriend told me. “I wish I could.”
Scampering across a tree bridge in Olympic National Park, I lose my footing, and tumble fifteen feet to the forest floor. I bounce back to my feet, and I whoop. I walk away miraculously unharmed from a fall that could have easily broken my neck. The girlfriend suffers an anxiety attack on my behalf.
“I’m sorry,” I say to her, when I notice she has withdrawn from the group. “I tend to be kind of blasé with my own life, without really thinking about how it affects others.”
On the flight home, I can’t stop thinking about Fate.
August and September: Ziggi’s Coffee
I spend almost every day of my summer in this unremarkable coffee shop in downtown Longmont. It is corporate, and there is little to recommend it. Still, I find an energy here. I begin writing a book: “In Search of Character in the Bleak Inhuman Loneliness.”
The process is painful. I wish I did not have to write it.
But what is there to do, brother?
October: New York
Unable to settle in to life at home, I opt to hit the road again. I spend a week in New York on my way to Europe. Here, I am reminded of something I think I had forgotten in the ski town. There are ambitious people in this world, and there’s nothing wrong with liking to be around them.
I went to Budapest to visit my climbing partner, who now lives there. I spent a month in this city, mostly climbing in the gym and drinking cheap beers. The city was good; the friendship was better.
I leave Budapest for a weekend in Paris. A friend from home is in Europe with her family for two weeks; she and I agree it would be funny to meet for coffee in Paris. So we do.
The friend has a boyfriend who isn’t here. My mind, is across the sea. We walk over the Pont des Arts, Paris’ famous ‘bridge of love,’ talking of our past. The city is almost painfully romantic. This is kind of weird, we say to each other. Neither of us is here with the person we want to be with. It’s no insult to either of us—it’s just how things stand.
Four of us are staying in an AirBNB in the Latin Quarter, directly above two rowdy bars. The group is my friend, her mother, and a friend of the mom’s. Saturday night, the mom’s friend and I go out for drinks. Let’s go drinking with the locals, she says. I’m always game.
In a dingy hole-in-the-wall in Paris, the two of us stand at the bar and order beers. Everyone else is putting back shots. I watch some beautiful young French women in the corner. I’m the oldest person here by thirty years, my drinking partner laughs. She has a good grace about it. I enjoy her vibe. I’m glad we are here in this bar, her and I. A lifelong traveler, she has stories from all across the world. Now, she’s a Canadian socialite: a high-achiever with a good job and a loving family. I see one of my possible futures in her. She has jetted out to Paris for the weekend, same as I.
I am kind of in love with her.
I’m mostly here to escape a broken heart, I tell her, 1 a.m. and feeling honest. I tell her about what happened in Hong Kong. You were meant to go to Nepal, then! She exclaims, totally confident. It feels nice to hear.
I leave Paris with a happiness in my heart.
That happiness evaporates quickly, as I head south from Budapest, traveling to the Balkans. These former Yugoslav countries are dark, cold, and often depressing. It is the beginning of winter; there are refugees everywhere; and the economies in these places are quite depressed. In Bosnia, locals tell me there is 45 percent unemployment. What do people do all day, we ask. Jerk off, someone says.
I am traveling with a Brit, two years younger than I. Our route takes us through Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia again, Montenegro, and Albania. In Albania, we spend a few days more than we planned. I convince him to go on to Turkey, to complete his goal of traveling all the way across Europe. He leaves for Turkey; I leave for Greece.
I arrive in Thessaloniki on the anniversary of some police killing. The Greek anarchists are in the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails at riot police, who respond with tear gas and flashbangs. Apparently, this is an annual occurrence. I read Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 as the two clash in the streets outside my hostel.
The noises and flashes of light are jarring, but honestly, at this point, I can’t be bothered.
I find Sofia to be such a post-Communist shithole, I eat at McDonald’s as a point of ideological pride.
I spend three days in Barcelona before flying home for the holidays. I’d promised my family I’d be back for Christmas this year.
I fall in with a group of Brits. Childhood friends, they adopt me at the hostel. We go dancing, as you must do when you go to Barcelona. I’m on two hours sleep from the night before. I don’t find it very enjoyable. Outside the clubs, 4 a.m., I sit on the beach. You want blowjob? A woman asks. I stare at the waves. I write a text message. I almost send it, then think better of it.
I wake up in the morning, see it still drafted, and tell myself thank god. I delete it.
The Brits and I go to the Parque de la Citudella. A beautiful, sunny day in December, someone says this is the Garden of Eden. It’s hard to disagree. We sit in the grass and smoke a joint. We lounge around, talking. The ringleader produces a sack, a grinder, and rolls another one. We smoke that one, too. He rolls a third for later.
A man comes up to us. I would like to Christian rap for you, he says. He raps nonstop for a minute or two about Jesus Christ, then moves on. He doesn’t even ask for money. We hold it in for as long as we can while he walks away, then we erupt in laughter.
You can’t do that to me, now, man, we say, gasping for air.
After a year on the road, I find myself wondering where my home really is.
I’ll keep thinking on it, as I spend the holidays with family and friends.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all. Hope your days are filled with light.